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Indians losing interest in newspapers, television and radio: NFHS-5

Among men, 32.2% said they read a newspaper or magazine at least once a week while the percentage for the same among women was 14.5%

Indians are losing interest in reading newspapers and magazines, listening to the radio, and watching television, according to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 2019-21 conducted under the aegis of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW).

In the survey, about their exposure to mass media, the respondents (both men and women in the age group of 15-54) were asked how often they read a newspaper or magazine, listened to the radio, watched TV, or went to the cinema.

Those who responded at least once a week (or at least once a month for the cinema) were considered to be regularly exposed to that form of media.

The percentage of women who did not access any of the media types at least once a week increased from 25% in 2015-16 to 41% in 2019-21 while among men it jumped to 32% now compared to 14% in the previous survey, the NFHS-5 report said.

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A total of 724,115 women (age group 15-49) and 101,839 men (age group 15-54) were interviewed in the survey.

In the previous survey – NFHS-4, exposure to each of the four types of mass media increased for both women and men between 2005-06 and 2015-16, except for the radio, which decreased substantially.

The percentage of women who did not access any of the media types at least once a week decreased from 35% in 2005-06 to 25% in 2015-16, and it was 18% among men in 2005-06, compared with 14% in 2015-16.

Advantage men

The survey found that men are more likely than women to be exposed to any and all forms of media, including newspapers, TV, radio, and the cinema. Television is the most common form of media exposure for both women and men across all subgroups, followed by newspapers or magazines.

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However, as per the survey, a substantial proportion of women and men do not access any of the four media at least on a weekly basis (41% of women and 32% of men).

“Exposure to each of the four types of mass media decreased for both women and men between 2015-16 and 2019-21, except for visits to the cinema/theatre at least once a month which increased slightly,” NFHS-5 said in its report.

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The survey results show that rural women are more likely to have no regular exposure to any form of mass media than their urban counterparts (50% vs 23%). The same pattern holds true for men (39% vs 18%). Only 21% of women and 15% of men with 12 or more years of schooling lack regular exposure to any mass media, compared with 67% of women and 61% of men with no schooling.

Source: National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), 2019-21

Key data

Among men, 32.2% said they read a newspaper or magazine at least once a week while the percentage for the same among women was 14.5%. In the previous survey of NFHS-4, it was 53.8% for men and 26.5% for women. The current trend shows that the habit of reading newspapers and magazines, has drastically decreased.

As per the survey, 53.5% of women watch TV at least once a week while it is 55.7% among men. Here too, it has decreased compared to the last national survey (77.2% men and 71.1% women).

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When it comes to listening to the radio at least once a week only 4.2% (10.5% in the last survey) of women said yes while it was 7.7% (20.7% in the previous survey) among men.

Visits to the cinema/theatre at least once a month were high among men at 22.2% (20.9% in the last survey) and it was only 9.5% (8.5% in NFHS-4) among women.

According to NFHS-5, the income level of a person correlates with the reading habit. The survey results show that 34% (60.7% in NFHS-4) of women in the highest bracket of the income group read a newspaper or a magazine once a week. In the same group, the percentage for men is 56% (80.8% last time).

In the state/Union Territory-wise percentage for both men and women when it comes to reading a newspaper or a magazine once a week, Kerala tops (58% women and 65.9% men).

‘Misleading trends’

The national survey might be missing a vital point when it comes to the newspaper-reading habits of Indians. It has not mentioned about the consumption of digital news among Indians.

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According to the December 2021 report titled ‘The Future of the News in India’ which was commissioned by Google and prepared by Dalberg Advisors, “digital news in India is forecast to reach 700 million+ consumers by 2026 and print is forecast to fall by 20%.”

“In India and globally, a digital-first landscape is emerging for news, presenting an opportunity to change how news is created, distributed, and monetised,” the report said.

“The internet is allowing Indians to access more news in richer and convenient formats, tailored to diverse needs. Digital is not just driving greater access (forecast to reach 700m users by 2026), but also increasing the average time citizens spend daily consuming news content (from 44 minutes in 2020 to 49 minutes in 2026). Vernacular (Hindi and regional language) consumers will drive growth, increasing at 6-8x the rate of English language consumers,” it added.

Further, it stated that print growth has stagnated in India and revenues are likely to drop by 20-25% in the next five years.

“Globally, there has been a shift in news consumption from print to digital, causing print revenues to decline. Digital revenue streams for publishers have been slow to grow. In India, this dynamic has been more muted to date, although print growth has stagnated, and we expect revenues to drop 20-25% over the next five years.”

Reacting to the NFHS-5 report, Mohit Jain, president of the Indian Newspaper Society, told ThePrint, “I think we need to look at the composite statistics. Newspapers and their content are available in both physical and soft format (internet). What we have observed is that, during the lockdown era, the reading habits of Indians have just improved,” it said.

“People are spending more time on reading newspapers and content online. The lockdown brought them more leisure time, some of which was channelised in reading,” he added.

“The news media, specifically the newspaper industry, has transformed a lot and merely looking at the statistics of physical newspapers could give us misleading trends,” Jain opined.

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